HALLANDALE BEACH, FL-- Champion Will Take Charge enjoyed another strong gallop at Gulfstream Park this morning, going out just before dawn under the watchful eye of trainer D. Wayne Lukas. After spending most of the winter at Oaklawn Park, the big colt will kick off his 4-year-old season tomorrow in the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1).
"We decided we'd winter in Arkansas, but we took a look at all of the Grade 1s around the country, and this is the first Grade 1 (for older horses)," Lukas said. "He was a little hot at first, but that's understandable coming in from 35 degrees and ice storms to the humidity here. He's really adjusted well the past couple of days." Will Take Charge typically takes the overland route in his races, but Lukas believes his charge can secure a handier position from post two in the nine-furlong Donn.
"If the track is speed- or pace-favoring, I would say that one thing that may be going for us is that he's fresh," the Hall of Fame trainer explained. "I think he's going to stay a little bit closer. He's stronger, bigger, more mature and he knows where his feet are now. He might get into the race a little bit earlier, but I'm not sure that he's going to change his style--he's still going to have to take a run at him.
"What we really need to have happen is for everybody to get into a speed duel and we'll just pick them up late," Lukas quipped. "I think we've got the best horse and we'll take a run at them."
Provided all goes well in the Donn, Will Take Charge will likely head next to the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on March 8, when he could meet his Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) conqueror Mucho Macho Man.
"The next one on the horizon that's a workable deal for us is the Santa Anita Handicap," Lukas remarked.
Miss Besilu Ready For Stakes Company
Miss Besilu, a $2.6-million filly owned by Ben Leon's Besilu Stables, scored for the second time in three starts at the current Gulfstream meeting when she prevailed in today's sixth race, a $48,750 first-level allowance test on the turf. Never too far from the front, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro took on pacesetter Sea Queen turning for home and found her best stride late for a neck decision. Miss Besilu ($5.60) earned her diploma when making her turf debut at Gulfstream on December 7 and followed that with a runner-up effort in the Ginger Brew Stakes on January 5.
"It was very good," trainer Bill Mott said. "She had a beautiful trip. She wore down the speed horse, she did everything right and she ran hard all the way to the end."
Mott confirmed that the half-sister to Horse of the Year Saint Liam will go back up the class ladder, and her options include both the $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on March 2 and the $200,000 Florida Oaks (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on March 8.
"She'll go in a stakes next time, either the Herecomesthebride or she'll go to Tampa and run there," Mott said. "The Tampa race gives her four weeks (between races); it's only three weeks if she runs here." Ring Weekend Scores Victory For Motion
The steadily improving Ring Weekend put it all together in Saturday's seventh race, a $47,000 maiden special weight for 3-year-olds. The son of Tapit was second in his latest on the Gulfstream grass on January 18, and went postward at 9-1 while going back to the main track for this mile-and-a-sixteenth contest. Aggressively ridden by Alan Garcia from post 10, Ring Weekend assumed command in front of the grandstand and fended off Legend for a half-length success.
"It was a little hard because I had to ask my horse to get a good spot," Garcia said. "I didn't want to be wide. When I got my spot, I waited until I had to move. Everything went perfect, exactly the way the trainer told me to do it."
Ring Weekend, owned by St Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds, is trained by Graham Motion. He was the first of two winners from the Motion string on Saturday's card, with stablemate Kitten's Point ($7.00) completing the double in the ninth race, a $51,750 optional claiming event for older fillies on turf. Kitten's Point, a homebred from George Strawbridge's Augustin Stable, collected the Herecomesthebride Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream 11 months ago, but hadn't raced since finishing third in the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in April. Unhurried early, the 4-year-old daughter of Kitten's Joy unleashed a powerful run up the center of the course to take it by 1 1/2 lengths. Bella Castani rallied for second.
WHO'S HOT:A trio of jockeys made two trips to the winner's circle on Saturday. Corey Lanerie rode Claque ($8.20) and Tarpy's Surprise ($5.80) in the second and eighth races, respectively. In addition to Ring Weekend, Alan Garcia guided Pleasant Cat ($7.20) home first in the third race. Jose Lezcano followed his success aboard Miss Besilu in the sixth with a wire-to-window tally aboard Parranda ($6.20) in the Suwannee River Stakes (G3).
Rainbow 6 Carryover: $528,557.37
Super Hi 5 Carryover: $8,523.70